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Two adolescent girls approached us confidently in the hall of the highly respected school, Mar Elias, established in the late 60ies by Elias Chacour, here at Ibillin. The Peace Centre was the dream of Elias as a young priest. His family were dispossessed of their land by Israelis in 1948 but Elias’ father, a strong Christian said,

“We’re not going to hate our Jewish brothers – we will serve them.”

The school has grown to over 2500 Arab students, Moslems and Christians.

The two teenage girls were keen to question us about Australia, our interests and our experiences of their Palestinian Arab culture. I won’t remember much of our conversation. What I’ll never forget; one was Moslem, one was Christian and they were best friends. Our Aussie group were invited to sit in the classes and some participated in amusing students with Australian songs and stories. Chris entertained our class by identifying Australian animals from a book she left as a gift.

The tireless work of Elias Charcour has contributed to peace in the region. As we walked around the hilly town in the heat, locals welcomed us with the toot of horns and a friendly wave. Visitors are a rarity here. The only accommodation in the town is in the school where we are staying.

Ibillin is surrounded by gentle hills covered with fig, carob and olive trees, speckled with limestone. Storks are currently paying their annual visit, whilst the local residents, sparrows, ravens and robins make it their home. Also, over 100,000 pigs call Ibillin home and eventually find their way to dinner plates of Gentiles throughout Israel.

This morning we worshipped at the Melkite church where Elias Chacour was sent for his first assignment. (You can read his fascinating story in his first book, ‘Blood Brothers’). Chris and I don’t understand a word of Arabic but were moved by the welcome and passion of the people.

This is the only place in Israel where a popular Christian Arab female singer has her song amplified throughout the community and blends with the Moslem call to worship.

The love and care we’ve experienced at Ibillin by our gracious hostess Samar Sahhar and the community has been overwhelming. We leave with heavy hearts. Today – Jerusalem.

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